Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute

CAR-T Cell Therapy

We were the first pediatric hospital in Florida to offer groundbreaking CAR T-cell therapy for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Find out how it works.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common form of cancer in children. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is another common type of childhood cancer. Chemotherapy and stem cell or bone marrow transplants often put these cancers into remission. But for a small percentage of children with ALL or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, these therapies don’t provide a cure.

CAR T-cell therapy can be a lifesaving option for these children. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, is one of the few certified pediatric programs in the state to offer CAR T-cell therapy.

If your child hasn’t gone into remission after other treatments — or has relapsed — this groundbreaking therapy may offer hope of a cure. Over 90 percent of our patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy achieve remission.

What Is CAR T-cell Therapy?

CAR T-cell therapy is a unique treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This is called immunotherapy.

The immune system contains T cells, a type of white blood cell. T cells fight infection and kill infected cells. During CAR T-cell therapy, your child’s T cells are removed from a blood sample, genetically modified and then added back into the body. Once in the bloodstream, the modified cells attack and destroy cancer cells.

How CAR T-cell Therapy Works

Receiving CAR T-cell therapy is a multistep process. Your child’s care team will explain it thoroughly so you know what to expect at each stage. These steps include:

  1. First, we take a blood sample from your child and separate out the white blood cells.
  2. We freeze the cells and send them to a lab. Scientists separate the T cells from the rest of the white blood cells.
  3. The scientists add a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to the T cells, turning them into CAR T cells. The receptor programs T cells to recognize, target and help kill cancer cells.
  4. The body requires millions of CAR T cells to treat cancer. Growing these new cells in the lab can take a few weeks.
  5. While waiting on the T cells, your child may receive low-dose chemotherapy. Chemo reduces the amount of other immune cells in the body. This enables the new CAR T cells to more effectively fight cancer cells.
  6. When the CAR T cells are ready, your child’s doctor schedules the infusion. The CAR T cells are put back into your child’s bloodstream. Your child will be admitted to our hospital for this procedure. We monitor your child for treatment side effects.
  7. The CAR T cells begin to multiply and target cancer cells. They remain in the body for months, or even years, seeking out and killing any remaining cancer cells.

Contact Us

To find out more about CAR T-cell therapy, call us at 727-767-6856. We serve families throughout the greater Tampa Bay area and beyond.